RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico (AP) — Bo Van Pelt held on to his lead — barely — at the Puerto Rico Open on Saturday and moved a step closer to his first PGA Tour victory.
Van Pelt shot a 1-under 71 at Trump International Golf Club to finish in front at 13-under. But there’s no shortage of challengers just as eager as Van Pelt for a tour victory in this inaugural event.
Briny Baird (69) and Greg Kraft (69) were one back, while Brenden Pappas (69) and Jerry Kelly (72) were two behind.
Marco Dawson (69) and Tommy Armour III (67) were tied at 10-under, with Ryan Blaum (72) and Ted Purdy (73) another shot behind.
Van Pelt decided late to play in the tour’s first visit to the island — he usually takes weeks opposite World Golf Championship events like this one off to relax and recharge.
Van Pelt’s schedule change has worked so far.
He opened here Thursday with a 64, his lowest round in nine months, and continued his near flawless play with a 68 on Friday. He looked ready to keep that going early in the third round with birdies on two of his first five holes, opening a three-shot lead.
That’s when Van Pelt’s game stalled, particularly his putter.
He slid a testy 10-footer by on No. 9 for a bogey, then dropped into a tie for the top with Pappas after a bogey on the 14th hole.
Van Pelt rallied back down the stretch, rolling in a 10-foot birdie try on the 16th to regain the lead. He had a chance to extend his margin on the 18th, but missed a 12-foot birdie try.
Van Pelt, 32, has only had one victory on the Nationwide Tour since turning pro in 1998 but is one of the steadiest performers — he’s earned more than $1.3 million each of the past four seasons.
The group behind him have rarely, if ever, enjoyed a PGA Tour win in their careers.
Baird’s never done better than second. Kraft’s only win came in 1993. Pappas, Blaum and Dawson are all non winners. Both of Kelly’s career wins came in 2002 while Armour III’s last victory was 2003.
Kelly was the highest ranked golfer playing here — most of the world’s best were on Doral’s Blue Monster for the CA Championships — at No. 63 and looked to have momentum after a second-round 66 left him a stroke from the top.
Very little went right for Kelly early on with four bogeys, including three straight to close the front. After Kelly’s final bogey on the ninth, he slammed his ball against his putter head in disgust.
Just when it looked like Kelly was through, he rallied with birdies on the 14th, 15th and 18th holes — the middle one a chip from in front of the green — to keep himself in contention.
Kraft put together his third straight sub-70 round to start a tournament, something he hadn’t accomplished since the Tucson Open in 2002. That’s also the tournament where Kraft says he contracted Valley fever, which attacked his lungs and set his career back for several seasons.
Pappas, a 37-year-old South African, was tied for the lead with Van Pelt midway through. A bogey on the 16th, though, knocked him back.
Divots: There were 75 of the 81 players who made the cut of 1-over par. Doug Labelle II earned $6,300 for last place. … Probably won’t see this at Doral: As the lead group walked up to its tee shots on the first hole, three dogs fought with an iguana on the adjacent practice fairway. The dogs took turns carrying the iguana until tournament staff drove over to shoo them away. The iguana, who seemed all right for its ordeal, was carried back into the thick tropical brush.